APRIL 24, 2006
 (STAR) HIDDEN AGENDA By Mary Ann Ll. Reyes - Enough is enough.

Apparently pissed by GSIS president Winston Garcia’s blatant disregard of the rules on disclosure, the Securities and Exchange Commission has finally compelled him to disclose the identity of the mystery entity that has offered to buy GSIS and the SM group’s respective stakes in Equitable PCIBank to put an end to speculations and to protect the investing public from such irresponsible disclosure.

Under the Securities Regulation Code, an owner of more than five percent of the voting rights of a listed company or any related party thereof, who holds material information which may materially affect such company, may be required by the SEC to disclose such information within the period prescribed under said rule. Failure to provide the required information shall subject said stockholder to sanctions applicable to violations of the rule.

The GSIS has a 12 percent stake in EPCIB while the SM Group holds about 34 percent, the Social Security System (26.6 percent), and Trans-Middle East Philippines Equities (7.1 percent).

Why Garcia would make such an announcement is obvious. Shares of EPCIBank have risen since he made such disclosure. Since the announcement of an unknown buyer, stock prices of EPCIB soared to P82 last March 24 from a trading range of about P62.50 on March 7. Last April 20, it ended at P71.50 from the March 24 closing of P82 per share or down by P10.50 per share. It is obvious that the P82 per share reached last March 24 was a result of the news reports that there was an unknown buyer at P92/share. The small investors, in their desire to be included in the P92 alleged purchase price, bought the shares even at a high of P82 in the stock market, thinking that they will be able to make P10 per share. If no such buyer and offer exist, then these small investors were duped.

While SEC’s move came a little bit too late, better late than never. The SEC and every listed company including their shareholders owning significant stakes have a responsibility to the investing public. The SEC’s credibility as the country’s securities watchdog was at stake. The law was blatantly being violated and it was time for the SEC to curb further violations. The clear message: No one is above the law.

Despite all the announcements of GSIS of buyers for the SM shares, the SM lawyers have said in a letter to GSIS weeks back that no formal and binding offer has been received directly by the SM group from any serious buyer. What we know is that an expression of interest was made by Siguion Reyna law firm on behalf of an undisclosed principal. But anybody who has seen the Siguion Reyna letter would know that it was no serious offer. There were 17 conditionalities being imposed by said unknown buyer and a serious buyer wouldn’t be making those demands.

And if indeed there are serious offer, how come the GSIS has again postponed its auction for its EPCIB stake to May 8? The answer is simple. Nobody even asked for information about the April 6 bidding.

Favored contractor

Philippine Ports Authority officials have a lot of explaining to do.

A port project initially costing P72.25 million was abandoned by its contractors after having completed about 45 percent of the project (incidentally where most of the money is), claiming all sorts of harassment from communist insurgents, local political bickerings and even the weather for their inability to complete the project on time.

The PPA swallowed the contractor’s reasons hook-line-and-sinker and allowed not only an extension but also a project escalation cost of around 20 percent to defray the ‘losses’ incurred by the contractors.

I am referring to the PPA project in the Port of Bislig in Lawigan, Surigao del Sur which calls for reclamation works, construction of a reinforced concrete pier, installation of fendering and mooring system and port lighting system was awarded to a joint-venture group between Jelac Construction and Development Corp. and Advanced Foundation Construction System Corp. and is now the subject of investigations from government.

Construction works started August 12, 2004 and should have been completed according to the contract with the PPA in 365 calendar days. All went well with the reclamation works and part of the construction of the reinforced concrete pier portion where the bulk of the project’s cost was. However, after these particular works were on their winding up stages, the joint-venture partners started to miss deadlines. The biggest blow to the project came on January 10, 2005 or roughly five months after the port project commenced when the PPA suspended the works upon the request of the contractors due to alleged exorbitant revolutionary tax collections, local political bickerings as to what local contractors the joint-venture group could sub-contract some works to, the rains which rendered the access road to the project site impassable.

JELAC reportedly decided to play hardball and pressure the PPA into approving an escalation cost or additional funding for the project. And it succeeded to nobody’s surprise. PPA just recently finally lifted the suspension order on the project giving the contractors not only an additional 209 calendar days to finish the project but an additional 20 percent. funding. No mention whatsoever has been made of the reasons stated by the contractors which served as basis for the project‚s earlier suspension.

Human trafficking

Human trafficking is a worldwide problem and is now plaguing the Philippines.

Filipinos aspire for a better future but their dreams are turned into nightmares when they are lured into slavery or prostitution. According to the Department of Justice, the problem on human trafficking escalated by 90 percent since 2003. From 12 cases in 2003, there was an increase to 114 cases last year.

It is no secret that the escalation in incidence of human trafficking stems largely from growing poverty and underemployment in this country. Thus Congress in 2003 passed Republic Act no. 9208 also known as the Anti- Trafficking Law which makes human trafficking punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment.

For its part, the government teamed up with the private sector and in 2005, a groundbreaking agreement was forged among various coalitions and agencies to work against trafficking in person. Their aim was to come up with common actions that would start a movement to combat trafficking.

A government-led formation called the Inter-agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) along with three civil society-led networks, which are the Multi-sectoral Network Against Trafficking (MSNAT), Coalition Against Trafficking in Asia and the Pacific (CATW-AP) and the Philippines Against Child Trafficking (PACT), agreed to work together, in partnership with the local government units to wage a massive campaign against trafficking. They dubbed it as the Filipino Initiative Against Trafficking (FIAT).

The campaign seeks to grab national attention to the problem and to show awareness to the public. The campaign will focus on five identified hotspots: Zamboanga, Samar, Leyte, Dumaguete and Davao.

FIAT was even more significant as it was launched in Malacańang. The President called human trafficking a "curse on the poor."

A few months after the campaign started and two and a half years after the enactment into law of RA 9208, three illegal recruiters were convicted. Hadjah Janma Laili Purih, Ronnie Aringoy and Nestor Relampagos were sentenced to suffer two life imprisonments and were also made to pay P2.5 million in damages.

Human trafficking may be avoided and can be stopped through a substantial approach in enforcing the law and in educating the people about the consequences of being involved in such misdeed.

The cooperation of the government and private sectors proved to be a winning formula in fighting human trafficking. With the government enacting the law, and the private sector having concerted effort of public awareness, such goal can be achieved.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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